New Deans Eye Strategies for Success
Judith Hennessey: Mapping the Path Forward
Three days after Judith Hennessey became chair of the marketing department at California State University, Northridge in January 1994, the now infamous 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake hit, decimating her campus.
The new dean of the CSU, Chico College of Business says that while that experience taught her a lot about managing with no resources, its biggest lesson in terms of professional development was that it made her realize that the outside world makes a great lab for students. “Maybe because the more structured way we’d been doing it before wasn’t possible. I’m not sure,” she said.
The marketing department began responding to outreach requests from the community, putting students to work on projects with Los Angeles County. One such project was creating a prototype and central buying system for county gift shops, a response to a PR problem caused by the county coroner’s office gift shop that was showcasing the “coroner to the stars.” Students also worked on revitalizing districts in the area that had been destroyed by the earthquake. “To this day I think the students that did those like to walk through those areas and say, ‘We did this,’ ” Hennessey said.
It was during this time in Hennessey's career that she began to get swept up in the business of the college. It was her time to provide some leadership, she said, which was needed in the area of accreditation. “I kind of became the college’s accreditation expert and played that role, first as a department chair and then as an associate dean [of the College of Business and Economics] for about six years," she said. "And then I became the interim dean. And then I stood back and said, ‘Is life controlling me or am I controlling my life?’ ”
Her family decided they wanted to move away from Los Angeles, and Chico was one of two places they thought could accommodate the family’s needs as well as Hennessey’s desire to have an impact.
Looking to the immediate and long-term future of the CSU, Chico College of Business, one of Hennessey’s big goals is to implement a reasonable set of strategies so the college can have as big an impact, if not bigger, than it has in the past. “What it’s going to take to be effective and impactful in the 21st century is not going to be repeating what we did before,” she said. “As has been the case throughout my career, technology has been perpetually changing, and we have to worry about the balance between letting technology drive us versus our own notions of what we should be doing and what we can be doing better.”
Hennessey earned her BA and MA in mathematical psychology and her PhD in psychology, human judgment, and consumer behavior from the University of Louisville, where she explored the human problem of good decisions and choices and the practical problems of good management. She describes her own management style as collaborative, believing that you get the best and the most of problem solving and decision making when you don’t do it in a vacuum. “You must enlist and engage people who know,” she said. “You must provide forums to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly of what the perspectives on the situation are.”
The challenge she sees going forward is moving an agenda that’s conjoined while respecting all those different perspectives, but she says this challenge is not unique—rather, that’s what the challenge of management in academia is all about.
“People here seemed to indicate to me that they want to be heard, they want respect, and they want leadership that will take them to the next level,” Hennessey said. “And I think I can do that. We’ll see.”
Angela Trethewey: Administrative Homecoming
Angela Trethewey may be new to the dean’s office on the second floor of Tehama Hall, but she’s no stranger to Chico State. An alumna of what was then the College of Communication, her time at the University played a pivotal role in shaping not only her career but also her personal life.
It was in a classroom in Glenn Hall where the former Wildcat met her future husband. The class she and Jeff shared was on gender and communication, a fairly new topic in 1988, and there weren’t many men in the class.
“I think he and his friend were in there strategically,” Trethewey said.
A senior undergraduate at the time, she would finish her bachelor’s in information and communication studies that year before going on to earn a master’s in human communication studies from the University in 1990.
Twenty-four years and a resume full of accomplishments later, Trethewey is back at Chico State to serve as dean of the college in which she began her academic career. While the town and University have changed in many ways since then, including the 1992 merging of the College of Communication with the College of Education, the things she remembers loving the most remain.
“All the things I remember fondly—it wasn’t just romantic longing for a past that didn’t exist—it’s actually here,” she said, sitting at a table in her new office, the bookshelf-lined wall to her right still mostly empty.
Before returning to Chico’s lush environs, she and Jeff lived in the desert. For the past 17 years Trethewey worked in Tempe, Arizona, at Arizona State University’s Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. She was recruited there to work as an assistant professor of organizational communication after a three-year stint teaching at the University of Washington, her first job after earning a doctorate in organizational communication from Purdue University in 1994.
Over that time, she climbed the ranks at the Hugh Downs School, all the way to the top. In 2009 she became its director, a position that charged her with the oversight of more than 3,000 students, 40 faculty members, and a $4 million budget. She says that role prepared her in a lot of ways to serve as dean of a college as unique in its organization as College of Communication and Education.
“I think there are some really exciting possibilities here in terms of doing interesting things collectively as a college in addition to all the wonderful things that the individual units are doing,” she said. “One of my long-term goals is to generate a unifying story for this college and to really elevate the college. It’s already doing wonderful work, and it’s already in a great place, but I’d like to see it even further elevated.”
She says she suspects her first six months will be a “data-gathering phase,” in which she listens and observes to learn how she can best facilitate the goals of the faculty.
“I’m honored to be in this position and looking forward to supporting the faculty and staff in any way that I can,” she said.
And as for the students, the ones who will be graduating from the college just as she did more than 20 years ago—supporting them is vital.
“We need people who can share stories and do it effectively, and they come from this college,” she said. “We need people to prepare students to be educated citizens, and they come from this college. There’s just so much that we do here that I think is critical to our collective future success, so it’s just really exciting to be a part of that.”
—Kacey Gardner, Public Affairs and Publications